The Challenge in the Miracle

“Sully: Miracle on the Hudson” is a biographical drama film based on the remarkable events of January 15, 2009 and the true tale of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. The plot of the film is centered on the miraculous emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in New York City. Captain Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles confronted a life-or-death scenario after a flock of Canada geese collided knocking both engines shortly after takeoff. Sully made the split-second decision to land the aircraft on the river, sparing the lives of all 155 passengers and crew members on board. As the investigation progressed, however, Sully came under intensive scrutiny from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which questioned his actions and judgment. The film examines the aftermath of the incident, focusing on Sully’s unwavering courage, the support of his co-workers and the public, and the effect the incident had on his personal life and reputation.

What struck me while watching this movie was the central conflict surrounding the NTSB’s investigation into Flight 1549’s emergency landing on the Hudson River. Despite the miraculous outcome and widespread acclaim for Captain Sullenberger’s actions, the NTSB launched a thorough investigation to determine whether his decision to land on the river was essential. Using computer simulations and flight data, the investigators recreated the incident and questioned whether Sully could have successfully returned to LaGuardia Airport or selected an alternate landing site instead of the river. Simulations indicated that he could have safely landed the aircraft at an airport, suggesting that he had alternative options. This stark contrast between the simulation results and Sully’s real-time decision created doubt and jeopardized his reputation and career. Sully feared losing not just his reputation, but his whole livelihood:

“I’ve got 40 years in the air, but in the end, I’m going to be judged on 208 seconds!”

As part of the investigation, Captain Sully Sullenberger faced a public hearing where he had to defend his actions and explain why his split-second decision to land on the Hudson River was the best option for the protection of the passengers and crew. The intense scrutiny, public hearing, media attention, and potential consequences for his career and reputation in the eyes of the general public weighed heavily on him. The disparity between the simulation results presented by the NTSB and his own real-time judgment was one of his primary concerns. Sully feared that the panel members and the general public would interpret the simulations as proof that he had made the incorrect decision, despite his conviction that he had acted in the best interests of everyone on board.

During the hearing, Sully effectively conveys the complexity of the situation he encountered during the flight. He underscored the critical factors that were not accounted for by the simulations, such as the limited time available, the unpredictability of engine performance, and the potential risks associated with attempting a return to an airport. Sully asserted that, given the circumstances, his decision to prioritize the lives of those on board was the only viable option. He argued that the simulations were unrealistic because they did not account for human factors, such as the element of surprise, the time required for analysis and decision-making, and the much higher stakes he and Jeff confronted. The simulation pilots knew in advance the emergency situation and the recommended response, were able to rehearse the scenario multiple times, had no passengers to worry about, and were not in danger.

The Board accepts Sully’s proposal and agrees that real-life pilots would take some time to react and run emergency checks before deciding to divert the plane. The NTSB reran the simulations with a 35-second delay to account for human error. The simulation to LaGuardia ends with the plane crashing short of the runway. The simulation to Teterboro ends with a crash into buildings before the airport. Then the crash recording was played, the actual situation where no one knew what was happening next, no warnings, no training for a crash landing on the river. In the end, the film celebrates the valor and resiliency of Sully and the crew while investigating the human drama and complex emotions resulting from such an extraordinary event.

The Challenge in the Miracle:

I compared the investigation event depicted in this film to the impact AI and machine learning decisions could create in our ordinary lives, where AI-assisted decision-making could go wrong due to the insufficient training of AI models in real-world situations. In many domains, AI can now compete with the finest human brains, often with astounding precision, quality, and speed, however, these systems make decisions possible under the provided learning model. The ethical, moral, and other human considerations that govern the course of business, life, and society are intangible human factors that AI is still not capable of capturing or responding to.

AI is founded on algorithms that respond to models and data. Typically, these models fall short of analyzing the reasoning behind an emergency decision or assuming human characteristics that emphasize empathy, ethics, and morality. A combination of statistical techniques, like cross-validation, and simulation studies, need to be deployed. Also, assess model performance on diverse and representative data sets to ensure fairness. Models should be regularly fine-tuned to maintain accuracy and alignment with fair decision-making principles. We still need humans in the middle to assess the value of insights and decisions to the welfare of humans, businesses, and communities. AI can help with providing decision-making points, but humans must still be involved in making that decision – ultimately, it needs to be “augmented intelligence” instead of pure artificial intelligence.

The film depicts Sully’s resiliency and determination to stand by his actions. Just imagine if it was a machine-driven decision, then who would be held responsible for it? No matter what, the human element of decision-making in high-pressure situations, the significance of experience, intuition, and the capacity to adapt to the unexpected remains unique and inevitable. There is a need to pay attention to the ethical and legal side of technology before its widespread adoption in automated decision making.

#asmajanwrites #pearlsofwisdom #Reflections

Author’s Bio:

Asma Jan Muhammad is a finance specialist by day and a writer by night. Her extensive exposure to corporate financial management has honed her analytical skills which she aspires to use to inspire others. Her publications include “Reflections” and co-authored books “She Dares” and “She is Remarkable”.  Asma believes in enabling others and in promoting tolerance, diversity, and equality through her writings.



  • shaikh mohmmedimran
    July 8, 2023

    I am inspired with the challenges in the miracle

    • asma
      July 8, 2023

      Many thanks 🙂 There is a need to Plan the Future Free from legal and Ethical Issues

  • Adnan
    July 8, 2023

    A very good reflection of story and connectivity with AI. Human reaction to uncertain moments and conditions can not be replaced by technologies.

    • asma
      July 9, 2023

      Thanks Adnan


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